When I separated from the Air Force, I decided to look for work in the field I had left three years prior: Government contracting for the acquisition of electronic equipment. After nearly 100 unsuccessful resumes later, I decided to change my focus.
The job I eventually landed depended on a combination of my skills: my on and off acquaintance with computers, my knowledge of contract writing, and my knowledge of the United States Army that I gathered as a Forward Air Controller. I was hired as a systems analyst to define requirements for a distributed command and control system (DCCS) to be used in a battlefield environment.
I was also sent to Tacoma, Washington to open the Ft. Lewis office for RDA. At one time I had the largest private office in the organization: the second floor of an open bay barracks. It was an austere environment, and my first job responsibility was to act as office manager. I had to hire contractors to build a small computer room, coordinate with the base to get the permits, arrange for phone service (two commercial lines, two class "B" and one class "A" military line). When asked by the "home office" in California why I ordered a hang-on-the-wall, turn-the-crank pencil sharpener instead of an electric one, I replied that I had six wall outlets and I was saving them for computers.
Eventually, the computers and the people came. By this time we also had movable wall partitions and I shared a cube with some computer manuals and a very understanding individual who was willing to answer my stupid questions. I taught myself Unix. I taught myself the Informix Database Management System.
Database management is one of the less exciting corners of software development, so the "real" programmers were more than willing to let me take over as the database administrator. As the DBA, I used the database to manage the database. All our programs used an RDA-developed common user interface simply called the forms processor. The forms processor got its information for display from a symbol table.
I wrote a database program that recorded symbol table information in human readable form (as opposed to hex codes) and translated it to the symbol table language. More importantly, I could run a report against this metadatabase and generate a contract-required data dictionary for several thousand data elements. Maintaining the code was the same thing as maintaining the documentation. I was able to accomplish both tasks for the labor of one. Having figured out how to use the symbol table, and how to manage my utility, I documented both of them.
Eventually, my managers saw the value to my knowing C programming, so they sent me to a 3-day course. This is the extent of my formal computer training and it now made me more dangerous. I now wrote data generators, and test tools to go along with the application programming.
The organization was still small at this point, and everyone supported the system in whatever way possible when the Army used it on exercises. I did field service; I literally made tent calls. I could handle most software problems, and the most common hardware problems. I accepted being able to read a 1:50,000 scale topographical map so I could find my customer, and hiking in with a backpack full of floppies, disk drives and a couple of controller and memory boards as part of my job description.
After several years, I was promoted to the project manager of a similar effort to put a fixed-based system into Command Post Tango, just south of Seoul, Korea. I spent about 10 days a month there. Having experience in country from my C-130 flying days and understanding the Korean culture was a plus. This project used the same basic tools of the DCCS program but required a totally revised database, and a communications systems based on LAN instead of packet radio and a more extensive interface with the PCs.
In my last year at RDA, I was promoted to the Manager of Software Development. My main challenge in this position was to secure the department's future. In order to stay in business, we needed to win the follow-on contract to the prototype projects we worked on for the previous five years. Since the follow-on contract was of a scope beyond our small company to handle, we subcontracted to TRW for the bid. I had to motivate software developers to write technical documentation to support our bid. They did an excellent job. We won the bid.
We also lost our jobs. Several weeks after winning the contract, we all were laid off with the explanation, "Our people in California need the coverage." The lesson I learned from this was that life in the corporate world can be cruel.
I was kicked out of the defense contracting industry months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.